Becoming a Legend

From The New York Times:

LillianDuring the great performance that was her life, Lillian Hellman always addressed the 20th century from center stage. While she defended many causes — justice, loyalty, American civil liberties, anti-fascism and Soviet-style Communism among them — what she represented most staunchly was herself, and what she believed in most fiercely was her own unassailability. She was first and last a dramatist, with a genius for the concise phrase and the provocative gesture. Shrewd plotting and a talent for dialogue were hallmarks of the hugely successful plays, movies and memoirs she wrote. But two crystalline expressions of her own life’s high drama are more memorable than any story she ever spun: her pithy rebuke to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 (“I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions”) and the 1976 Blackglama advertisement for which she posed, enrobed in mink, her 71-year-old face alight with both amusement and confrontation. From her earliest days she sought the spotlight. Once it was on her, she basked in it until the end. Her friend Richard de Combray commented that when she died in 1984 at age 79, “she wanted to pull all the scenery down with her.”

“To read Hellman, even to read about her, is to start an argument,” one of her biographers has noted.

More here.